This month, my blog turns two years old. I can hardly believe it! When I started blogging, I had this idea in my head. I wanted to share all the great information that I had come across in the short time I had been a mom. I never thought that it would lead to some great opportunities and help me form some awesome relationships.
Truth be told, I needed to do something to figuratively get out of the walls of my house. Raising my children is something I wouldn't trade for anything in the world, but it is not without its hardships. I'm sure I've said this before, but being a stay-at-home mom can be lonely. You spend the majority of your days interacting with children who can barely speak, much less hold a real conversation with you. Some days, the most adult interaction you get is saying hi to the postal worker, and on a good day, you may get to chat with other mommies at Mommy & Me. While I hoped that starting the blog would help me to not feel so lonely, I never imagined how well my audience would respond to what I was putting out there.
Sometimes it's hard, and it would be easier to say, "Forget it," and throw in the towel. A lot of work and effort goes into keeping this going, and while there are many bloggers out there who do this to make a living, I do not make money off of the blog. Sure, sometimes I get cool products and I pass them along to you, but I never suggest products that don't make sense to me, my lifestyle, or that I'm not 100% willing to endorse for you. I never want you, my audience, to think that I'm just promoting something because I am making a quick buck.
I do love how the blog has evolved. At first, I thought I would focus mostly on parenting. But it turns out, I'm no expert in that! As a matter of fact, I'm not an expert in anything, so there's that. The evolution of the blog from a parenting blog to one with a focus on motherhood and womanhood is one that I'm really pleased with. It seemed to happen naturally, and I really do think it serves a better purpose than just focusing on parenting. I love sharing my style and beauty tips with you all. I love encouraging you to love yourself and take care of yourself so you can take better care of those around you.
But you know what I love most? Is hearing from you, interacting with you, and getting to know you. When I first started blogging, I was focused on numbers. "Blogging is a numbers game," "You need a higher follower count," "Companies won't want to work with you if you have fewer than 10k followers." I'm not sure at which point I decided that the numbers just didn't matter. Because I was receiving messages from you all on a daily basis, saying how a particular post I wrote had helped you, or how something I said really spoke to you. And you know what? That's better than any follower count could ever be. And so my dear friends, I do this because YOU keep me going. I hope to keep going with this blog for as long as it's fun for all of us, but I want to make a few promises to you!
I truly hope you will stick around for the rest of the ride! And for sticking around this far, I have a little gift for one lucky reader! I've been loving The Magic of Motherhood by Ashlee Gadd. The book contains essays on motherhood, and it really is a special collection of stories by moms new and experienced. Follow the instructions below to enter, and share with your friends!
Dear 18-year-old Jenise,
You probably can't imagine this yet, but yesterday, we turned 32. I know. You probably think 32 seems so... ADULT. But really, it's not that bad.
As a matter of fact, 32 might actually be a prime year for you. In the last year, you've achieved things you didn't think you ever would - like run a half marathon (yes, I'm serious!), maintain a successful photography business while working from home, and reach many women, most of whom you have never met, via your blog. The next year only holds promises of even greater things.
You are married to this amazing man, Eddie (you've actually already met him and been on a date with him, but it didn't work out just yet. Be patient.). He treats you like a queen and loves you probably more than you deserve sometimes. You have a beautiful home you have built together, and an adorable two-year-old boy named Caleb. He is the light of both of your lives. You have a dog named Bella, a Lhasa Also, just like your first dog, Sassy.
The road here hasn't always been the smoothest. But with faith, family, love and support, you've made it to where you are, and you have come out stronger on the other side. But I'd like to give you some words of wisdom, from yourself, a few years down the line.
Love your body. Your body will do some incredible things over the next couple of years. Those boobs you were ashamed of because they grew so fast and were never perky enough? They will nourish your baby for nearly TWO years. They will sustain him completely for the first 6 months of his life. You'll carry your son in that belly that has never been quite flat enough, and there will be nothing on earth that will make you more proud of your body. Keep exercising - your body will do whatever you push it to do - including run 13.1 miles through Walt Disney World Resort. Feed it wisely - stop going through those drive-thrus and eating crappy junk. When you finally start to nourish it well, you'll notice a world of difference. Trust me.
Stop chasing love. Love will find you. Or rather, you will find each other. And it will be sweet, and it will be fiery, and it will leave you weak in the knees. But the day you decide to make it a forever kind of love, will be the day where you are more certain of anything than you have ever been in your entire life. Stop stressing yourself out over love. It will come. And on that note...
Don't put up with anyone mistreating you. This comes to guys and friends. You'll have one relationship in particular that will challenge you and leave you with scars. Don't let those scars get too deep. But if they do get too deep, don't beat yourself up over it, for one day, they will heal (because you will find the kind of love that is perfect for you). Friends will come and go. Friends who you thought would be forever friends will slowly start to fade into the background and new friends will emerge. But anyone who mistreats you or disrespects you shouldn't be in your life.
Don't carve your path in stone. This monumental decision about your career? Go with your gut. You will have a successful run in a profession you love. But you will also find something else that you are passionate about, and you will hone your skills and become good at that. You'll also find that running your home is a lot more work than you ever thought it would be, and you'll adapt to life as a stay-at-home mom, too.
Trust your gut. At 32, it hasn't steered you wrong. It will guide you on everything from your career, to your love life, to being a mother. People will try to give you advice about what you "should" be doing all the time. Your judgement will tell you which way to go. Trust it. You will always make the best decisions for yourself.
Accept yourself. Love yourself for who you are. Don't change your personality because someone else said it was cool to be a certain way. At the end of the day, if you've been true to yourself, you will lay your head on your pillow every night and rest easy. Be your kind, level-headed, easygoing self. You'll appreciate those traits more the older you get.
But most important of all, enjoy the ride. Life is so sweet. Savor every moment. Dance. Read. Hop on a plane. You'll never regret living your life fully.
I was provided with a subscription in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.
I have been an avid reader my entire life. One thing I always imagined as I got older was reading to my kids. We don't necessarily have formal story time every day around here, but I do make it a point to read to Caleb throughout the day. Sometimes it's in the bath with a bath book, or right before we nap. New books are my favorite, and he loves exploring new reading material, too, but sometimes it's hard to figure out what new book to get!
Enter Bookroo, a monthly children's book subscription. They have two options for subscriptions: a Picture Book Box, which contains two picture books perfect for ages 2-6, or the Board Book Box, which contains 3 board books perfect for ages 0-2. Each book comes individually wrapped, and Caleb had so much fun unwrapping them. He kept saying, "Mommy, present!" I feel like this made him even more excited to receive a book as a gift!
Our first box had two really fun books, and Caleb has enjoyed them both greatly. His favorite of the two is "A Dog is a Dog," and he loves to point out all the animals.
They have one month, 3 month, 6 month, and 12 month subscriptions, so there is really an option for every budget. And while this is something great to get for your own children, I also think it makes a FANTASTIC gift.
Why not give a gift that keeps giving for months after a holiday or a birthday? And a gift that will allow them to keep learning and growing for so much time to come? As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to add this to Caleb's Christmas/Birthday wish list right now!
And guess what? If you use the code TOPKNOT, you will get 15% off of your Bookroo Box Subscription!
What are you waiting for?
While we're on the subject of independence this week, let's talk about it on a more personal level. In this day and age where helicopter parenting (it's a thing, I promise, look it up) is so popular and so damaging, let's remind ourselves to be more like America and loosen the reigns a bit. When I was teaching, the one thing I always swore was that I wouldn't be a helicopter parent. And while what you say before you have kids and what you do once you actually have them are two different things, this is one thing I have tried to stick to. And while Caleb hasn't started school just yet, and I don't know what I'll be like once he does, I am trying to make sure he doesn't feel like he is still attached to me by the umbilical cord.
According to the article I linked from Parents Magazine, helicopter parenting means that parents are overly focused on their children. In this day and age where we are so consumed with perfection, we sometimes forget all the great parenting skills our parents had, whether they were intentional or inadvertent. I find that I have to be very conscious and tell myself not to hover. We have been taught to fear so much, danger lurks around every corner. The other day, when talking about traveling abroad, someone told me, "You have to watch your stroller every second or they will walk away with the stroller and your child in it." I get it. We want to protect our kids. We NEED to protect our kids.
But it cannot come at the cost of their independence and ability to do things for themselves.
I think helicopter parenting is a term that is typically applied more to school aged children and parents who are making sure their children succeed at any cost, including completing assignments for them. However, I definitely think the tendencies can begin before school begins, and I am trying to do a few things to foster independence in Caleb that will help him adjust to life away from home and Mommy & Daddy's arms.
He plays independently. A lot.
Momma's got work to do. The house needs picking up. Blog posts have to be written, meals need to be made. When we over schedule our kids from such a young age, they never learn to be bored and use their imaginations. They feel like they need to be entertained at every moment. And I do not have the time, nor the energy, to entertain him every minute of every day. He's got a playroom full of toys of every kind at his disposal. This doesn't mean I won't play with him for a little while, or schedule play dates or take him to do an activity of some kind, it just means I'm not planning every second of his day.
He isn't attached by the umbilical cord.
They cut that thing the second he popped out. Literally - it was cutting off his air supply. There's no need for me to keep him within arms reach when we are in open areas. At the playground, at the park, at the beach, I give him space. If I see he needs help or there is imminent danger, I stop him or help him. But otherwise, I'm letting him build up that confidence. And I'm always paying attention and just a short distance away.
He gets hurt. And gets in trouble. And everything he does is not adorable or funny.
My child isn't always in the right. If he hits your child without reason, I'm going to scold him, but you can go ahead and scold him too. If I tell him not to do something because he's going to get hurt, and he keeps doing it anyway and gets hurt, I'll comfort him, but I also talk about the consequences of our actions. And contrary to popular belief, everything he does is not adorable, and we shouldn't laugh when he does something he really should not do. Is this hard sometimes? YES. But it's important for them not think that everything they do is adorable.
It isn't easy. I've had to make a very conscious decision for some of these things. And I know once he starts school, it won't get any easier. But when he applies for college or a job and stands out because Mom isn't the one doing his communicating for him guys this really happens, like for real), then I'll know we did a good job.
Guys, the twos have seriously taken me by storm. I know I promised this wouldn't be a horrible year, and there has been a lot of amazing development going on in Caleb's little mind. But man. It's been tough to keep my cool. And to be totally honest, I haven't always been able to do that.
The last few weeks have been fraught with tantrums, hitting, and an unimaginable stubbornness on the part of a very tiny little dictator who thinks he runs our home (truth is, he might, to a certain degree). I didn't know little personalities could be quite this strong.
If you follow me on Instagram, and you watch my stories, you have caught a glimpse of it. Truthfully, I have never been the kind of person who felt like she needed a glass of wine at the end of each day. I now feel like on the hardest evenings I need not just a glass, but a bottle. There are days when from start to finish, I feel like I am a hostage negotiator, negotiating every single little mundane detail of the day.
"If you let me change your diaper, you can play with Mr. Potato Head."
"If you eat one more bite, you can play outside."
"If you pick up the toys, you can watch TV."
"If you get in the tub, I'll fill it up all the way."
And so go my days. The negotiations are easy compared to the tantrums and the hitting though. On more than one occasion, I have relegated him to his crib so that I could calm myself down while he was contained and couldn't wreak anymore havoc on me.
And at what point do I say, I can no longer chalk this up to normal toddler behavior? I still don't know the answer to this, and I'm not sure I ever will. But according to everyone with whom I have spoken, we are still within the realm of toddler "normalcy." Everyone has told me to breathe, drink often, and remember that it's just a phase.
And you know what? It might not be over, but today was a good day. Today we played together, he napped when he needed to, and I didn't get hit, at all.
So don't you fret mama. Because this too, shall pass.
In case nobody has told you yet, momma. It's okay.
It's okay to feel overwhelmed.
It's okay to feel like you're drowning sometimes.
It's okay to want to escape.
It's okay to cry.
It's okay to not want to have to clean up after anyone.
It's okay to leave the dishes in the sink.
It's okay to take some time to yourself.
It's okay to feel like you don't have it all together.
It's okay to NOT have it all together.
Motherhood is hard. Working moms have it tough. Stay-at-home moms have it tough. Work-from-home moms have it tough. And some times are tougher than others. And it's okay to feel the pressures of motherhood weighing down on you.
I've had meltdowns more times than I care to count in the last few months. Call it the terrible twos getting the best of me. Call it overworking myself. Call it trying to be a perfectionist in everything I do and feeling like I'm not succeeding at anything. Whatever you call it, I've been feeling it.
And guess what? Until I asked for help - from my hubby - it wasn't going to get better. Until I asked for help with the dishes and the laundry and the picking up and time for myself. I wasn't going to stop having tantrums on par with Caleb's.
But the thing is, I don't have to be perfect. I have to be present. I have to be happy. I have to be loving. Perfect doesn't fall into any of those categories.
But one day you'll wake up and feel better. One day you'll have an amazing morning with your little one, and maybe you'll be lucky enough to wake up and the dishes will be done, and the house will be picked up. And there's nothing wrong with me, or with you, when you're not okay.
But until that day, momma, it's okay to not be okay. Because soon it will be.
This week, the blog turns ONE! Even though the archives show posts back as far as February 2015, I didn't officially publish and promote the blog until I had enough content up and was making it a point to publish entries. But anyway, I can hardly believe it. I set about on this fun little endeavor thinking that I'd probably have a few close friends and family reading it. I don't get millions of hits to the site, but I get way more than I ever imagined.
First of all, I want to thank YOU! Yes, you! Thank you for reading and commenting and reposting and coming back to read my thoughts! You are the reason why I continue to put the effort into this little corner of the world. There have been days when I've thought about giving up, and I'll get a message from one of you, or someone will mention to somebody I know that they have been reading my posts and something resonated with them.
Know that in this age of algorithms and popularity-based views on social media networks, every like, share, and comment is so meaningful. I am eternally grateful to those of you who follow along and support all these posts that come from my heart!
I also want to take a minute to thank my husband, Eddie, and Caleb, the little guy who inspired me to start this blog. They are my number one fans, and are always putting up with me taking pictures and saying stuff like, "I can probably use this for the blog." Creating content regularly is no easy feat, and they never complain about my shenanigans.
And two two more friends I want to thank, Cary over at Cary Diaz Photography for capturing these awesome first birthday themed photos for me, and Kristi at Habit Boutique for dressing me perfectly for the occasion! The dress and blouse I am wearing in these photos were provided by her boutique. The colors are perfect and the quality of them is excellent! If you've never been, check it out in the heart of Coral Gables - she has beautiful pieces!
I've learned a lot about myself and about others over the past year of blogging. Some of it good, and some of it bad. But there are three things in particular that I want to share with you, whether you are blogging, working someone else's business, running your own business, or running your family.
1. Believe in yourself. You have to be ready to put in the work, but you also have to know that whatever vision you have for yourself, it can be done. I've learned that my mind is the most powerful tool I have, and vision plus hard work equals results.
2. Stop comparing yourself. I've had to tell myself countless times to stop comparing myself to so-and-so because they have 10k or 100k followers. I haven't been at this that long, and it's a saturated market. I have a unique perspective to offer, and comparing myself to what everyone else has or doesn't have is going to take my eyes off of my end goal. Just be 100% you.
3. There is an amazing world of kindness out there, you just have to be open to the opportunity. Early in my journey, a girl named Bessy (check her blog out here) reached out to me. She invited me into a group of blogger friends that she had made and they were all so kind and supportive. It was incredible to see how they embraced me so quickly. And like those women, I have found so many who are kind and helpful. Women who have helped me to be lifted when I was down about something. Women who told me to brush off negative comments or imitators (yes, I had someone copy my blog name ::insert eye roll here::). Women who empower other women and want to see nothing more than for them to succeed. Had I not responded to Bessy's initial message, I would have missed out on this amazing group of women. I've also made some amazing virtual BFFs, who I hope to highlight for you in the coming months.
But birthdays mean presents, right?! I'm not asking you for presents, but I AM giving some goodies away! I was going to give one bigger gift, but I thought it would be more fun to have multiple winners. So each week this month, I'm going to be giving something away! I'll be giving away products I LOVE and use often so that you can benefit from them, too! So check back weekly in the month of April to see what I have for you. The giveaway will open Monday morning and will close Thursday evening. I'll announce the winner Friday morning. And I'll be doing this for four weeks!
Thanks for all the love, friends!
Giveaway #1: Fueled by Caffeine & Jesus (grubby toddler hand not included)
When I was about 6 months into this stay-at-home mom gig, I still hadn't adjusted. I was feeling like I had to do everything at home perfectly and like I had to get everything right all the time. I'm not even sure how I came across it, but I somehow happened upon The Super Mom Myth by Becky Kopitzke. Her book pointed out so many things that I was doing and stressing over that I didn't need to be! It really changed my outlook on being a mom and a wife. And I want you to experience that, so included in my first giveaway is this book, along with this adorable one of a kind mug, complete with my handwriting, made by my friends at Creative Sparkles, and a sleeve of Nespresso coffee pods. Follow the directions below to enter and win!
I received no compensation for any of these products. Clothing was provided by Habit Boutique free of charge in exchange for my honest opinion.
If you follow me on Instagram, you already know that I completed my half marathon on Sunday. I wrote a post not too long ago about my workout essentials, and how I felt I was unprepared for my half marathon.
And I wasn't prepared, not as much as I should have been. The furthest I had ever run before then was 5.5 miles. Nothing even close to 13.1. As a matter of fact, I almost didn't show up that morning. I was in the process of psyching myself out, I was crying, I didn't want to do it alone. And my husband looked at me and said, "You've got to be kidding, you can't be scared of this. You've birthed a human! You can do this."
I started off the morning with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who signed up for the run because Eddie and I said we were going to do it. Disney and anything princess related is a major motivator. While we were standing in the corral, we were talking about our expectations for it, and my sister-in-law mentioned she had a time in which she wanted to finish. She then added, "My goal is to cross the finish line." I looked at them and said, "Honestly, you guys have trained hard for this. I haven't been nearly as good. My goal is six miles. If I make it through six miles, I'll have run farther than I have ever run before, and I'll make it all the way through Magic Kingdom." I ended up running the first mile or so with them, and then I fell behind. It gave me a lot of time to think.
I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I got emotional during this run. Within the first two miles I thought about my grandmother, who passed away in November, and how she would have been freaking out if she knew I was doing this, which then made me crack up. I thought about Caleb and Eddie, and how utterly blessed I am to have them in my life. I thought about my parents, and my in-laws, who gave up their anniversary weekend to watch us all run this thing (Fun fact: my parents anniversary is the 25th, my in-laws the 26th, and ours the 27th!). Before I knew it, I was crossing the Magic Kingdom parking lot and mile 3.
By the time I crossed mile 5, we were entering Magic Kingdom. Eddie was waiting for me in the spectator area on Main Street (Caleb stayed with my parents the night before so I could sleep). I had already been crying after passing a few super motivating signs, but once I saw Eddie, all bets were off. I was a blubbering mess. And I think I was so emotional because I had doubted myself so hard. Maybe also because I was PMSing, but whatever. He grabbed my face and said, "You're doing amazing. Keep going. You've got this." Then we took a picture together with the castle in the background, and you can clearly see tears in my eyes. It also might be my favorite picture of us with the castle, ever.
So I made myself a new goal - I would get to Mile 10. Miles 6 - 9 I slowed down some, but I was still trucking. Mile 10 was where it started to get HARD. My quads were burning, and I could feel blisters on the bottom of my feet. I didn't have any pain, but my body was definitely feeling every step. But right before I reached Mile 10, I started to get all kinds of texts from my family and friends, who were following along with my bib tracking.
When my parents texted that they were at the finish line with Eddie and Caleb, I knew that I would have to finish this race. Miles 11-13 were so damn long. And so hard. I was slow. I walked a lot. But I kept telling myself, just finish.
When I finally reached the finish line, I smiled, and then I broke down. I lost it. Ugly cried. Trust me, Disney PhotoPass Photographers caught it, and yes, I'm sharing with you.
I kept crying, and when I got my medal, I'm pretty sure I couldn't see straight. When I finally caught up with Eddie and Caleb and my parents, I was a mess.
But I learned so much doing this.
I learned that completing something like this is 25% training for it and 75% mental. If you have people pushing you and cheering for you, you can do it.
I learned that I can crush my goals, and then continue to surpass them.
I learned that I am stronger than I ever believed.
It reaffirmed that my body is incredible.
I learned that half marathoners come in all shapes, sizes, and athletic abilities.
I learned that if you want to do something, just do it. Don't set mental barriers for yourself. Don't tell yourself anything else except, you CAN.
One note: don't do this without training some. I knew I could do 5 miles, and with the motivation and the energy levels around me, I was able to complete it, but I would definitely recommend a lot more training than what I did. But if this is something that you want to do, then train for it, and do it. I promise, you can. Even in the best shape of my life, and when I was the most active, running a mile was something I was never able to do. If you had told me 5 years ago I would be able to complete 13.1 miles, I would have laughed in your face. But here I am. And yes, I'm totally getting that magnet for my car, because why the heck not?!
Crush it, momma.
It's almost March, which means all the St. Patrick's stuff has started to show up on store shelves (side note: when did St. Patrick's Day become an actual holiday?). This got me thinking about luck.
"You're so lucky." If you live on this planet, those words have probably been uttered to you before in regard to something you have or have achieved. Those words really make me crazy. And while I know that people never say them with ill-intent, it's always a shock to my system to hear those words.
Luck: (noun) success or failure apparently brought about by chance rather than one's own actions.
I'm not sure about you, but I don't feel like most of the things in my life came about by chance. Aside from an initial chance encounter, most of the things in my life have come about through hard work and sacrifice.
"You are so lucky to be a stay-at-home mom." I would venture to say that this has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with a series of decisions I made during my life, including the decision to marry a husband who recognized the importance of having a parent stay home with young children if it was feasible.
"You are so lucky to have a solid marriage." Ummm, marriage is hard work. Luck stopped the day my husband and I crossed paths in our university's student center. Every day thereafter has been the product of choices made by each of us to keep our relationship thriving. Speaking of...
"You are so lucky to have landed such an incredible man." Why yes, my husband is pretty freaking incredible. I'd like to think I am too. And I'd like to think that, again, luck had nothing to do with me landing him. My stellar personality and ridiculously good looks (just kidding haha) must have had nothing to do with it, right? But seriously, did I have nothing to do with it? Saying this implies that he basically picked me out of a hat. And considering we dated twice, I'd say that most certainly wasn't the case.
"You are so lucky to have your little boy." To this I'd say, read about our struggle with infertility. Has God blessed me immensely with this little boy of mine? YES. Am I grateful to have him wake up every morning? Yes. Did he come to us by pure chance and luck? NO.
"Your husband is so lucky to have the job he has." I think this one may bother me most of all, and I know I have spoken to many friends who feel this way as well. My husband works his butt off - sometimes at the expense of his own well-being. His success can be attributed to any number of factors, but luck is certainly not one of them. And his success also has just a tiny bit to do with his having a supportive wife at home.
Anyway, I'm pretty sure that there is not a whole lot that anyone in this life has that can be attributed solely to luck. At some point along the way, a decision was made about something or other that led to whatever this person has or does not have. And I'm going to say I'm fairly certain luck has nothing to do with it.
So next time you're about to tell someone how lucky they are, don't. Some alternatives: "You're so fortunate," or "You've been blessed" (as cliched as that may be, it's still less insulting than "you're lucky."
Just keeping it real.
When I was pregnant, I knew right away that it was a boy. When the ultrasound confirmed it, I was so excited to have a little boy. I get asked all the time when we are going to have our girl, and I honestly don't like that question. If God gives us a daughter, I will be thrilled. But I will not love my children any less because of their sex. My friend Justine over at Sunny in June is pregnant with her third baby boy. She recently wrote a great article in response to why this question in particular annoys her so much, because apparently raising boys is the worst.
I've noticed a lot of articles floating around recently about raising boys. Maybe it's because Facebook's algorithm is that good and notices I don't click on stuff with daughters so it pushes all the "boy parent" stuff up to the top of my feed. Regardless, I have read some interesting things out there in the last couple of weeks, with a particular resurgence since the Women's March.
I'm not making a political statement here. I'm writing from the heart on my thoughts, concerns, and fears when it comes to raising a boy. Girls and women get so much attention nowadays that it's hard to cut through sometimes and remember that raising our boys is so important too.
Firstly, however, I want to say that women's rights are important. We are equal to men. We are different, and those differences are cause for celebration. I mean, show me a man who can push a baby out his bits after carrying said baby for 9+ months, then continue to give that baby life by breastfeeding, and I will show you that pigs can fly. Women should be paid fairly for doing the same work men do, women should have the same opportunities men do, and women shouldn't have to feel like someone else needs to shatter glass ceilings for them. I am also in no way implying that every man is the same nor is every woman the same. Amongst us all, there are so many differences. Which again, should be celebrated, not shamed, in the way that some people do. If you want to work and pursue your career, go for it. If you want to stay home and take care of your children, do the damn thing. If you don't want to get married and travel the world with no strings attached, DO YOU GIRL.
But there are biological and developmental differences in men and women that can't be denied. We can't treat our boys and girls exactly the same because their needs are different. Having taught middle school for many years, I can tell you that the developmental difference is very much present. Their individual needs have to be met so that they can develop into the men we want a whole generation of girls to marry.
And while the old school mentality of "man up" doesn't necessarily sit well with me, neither does the notion that our boys have to be the same as girls, or that girls somehow deserve more of our attention than boys do. We want our boys to grow into men, into fathers, into spouses, and into incredible members of society. I don't want a son who is offended by everything, but I also don't want a son who is offensive. If we neglect them. or imply that somehow women deserve to be treated better than they do, then we are setting ourselves up for a generation of boys who is resentful.
So how do we raise our boys into men? I'm not sure that there's a right or wrong way to make our boys into men, but I know it starts at home. I don't know what the future will bring - I don't know if a few years from now I'll look back on these words and think, "Wow, Jenise, you had so much to learn." But I'd like to think that by doing some of these things, my Caleb will grow from a boy into a MAN.
Be the example.
Dads, you play a super important role here. The way that your sons see you treating women will be the way they treat women. You know that saying, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree?" Kids learn best by example. If you are demeaning women, making women seem less than men are, then that's what they will emulate. We are our children's first teachers. So hold open all the doors, allow women to go first, and give up your seat for the pregnant woman, for crying out loud. Same goes for us moms - whatever we allow to be done to us will be what our sons think is acceptable. But also very important will be how they see us treat other women. If we are bitchy and backstabbing and gossipy, they will think that behavior is okay.
Recognize their unique needs.
Some boys are sensitive. Others are not. Some boys are rough. Others are not. There is no mold for boys, just as there is no mold for anyone else on this earth. Pay attention to your child. If your son has an interest in trucks, let him play with trucks. If your son has a desire to rescue animals, let him do it. I come from a family with a diverse group of men. My grandfather was always a baseball-loving, scotch-drinking factory worker who loved to build things and use his hands. My dad is also great with building things and is super handy, but he loves to decorate and has never been interested in sports, really. One of my brothers is a priest who will occasionally play soccer and loves a good cigar, and my other brother is a lanky engineer who loves video games. Encourage the uniqueness in your boys. Don't ever tell them, "You're a boy, you should (or shouldn't) be doing this."
Let boys be boys.
Before you jump down my throat and say, "That's the most misogynistic phrase ever!" please let me finish. I don't mean that boys should be excused for inappropriate behavior because it's somehow ingrained in their DNA to be inappropriate. I do mean - let them play outside, give them activities that involve movement, teach them healthy ways of getting out stress or anxiety. I have friends whose daughters are content to sit and color and play with PlayDoh for hours. Caleb stands at the back door and begs me to go "ousside". He runs in circles while aforementioned girls are coloring. Their energy needs to be expended, and it's usually in super active ways. Let them go outside, let them get dirty. Let them learn to fix things. Take them fishing and let them bait the hook. Since when is being a man's man a bad thing (as long as you're not being a jerk while at it)?
Monitor what they watch/listen to/read.
I'm not saying to censor anything, but if it has a questionable message, (and their maturity level is at a place where this is an appropriate action) talk to them about it and discuss why the message is questionable. Mainstream media is full of smart, independent women, but it's also filled with terrible messages that heavily influence our boys. They think that if the celebrities they look up to say it's okay, then it's okay (don't even get me started on kids having celebrities as role models). We also live in a society where sex is "easy come, easy go," and a lot of things are no longer considered taboo, especially when it comes to what we are watching and listening to. If we teach them that sex is something to be valued, then they will recognize those messages as frivolous. It all comes down to talking to them openly. Having open lines of communication with your kids makes a world of difference in their perception of the world.
Teach them self control.
This one is huge. I think if more people (men and women alike) practiced self control, we would avoid a lot of the issues that we have. If we teach our boys to have self control and not act on every impulse, that will cut the issues we have tremendously. By teaching them to control urges of all kinds, we teach them about patience and respect. One of the things I always used to tell my middle school students was, no matter what a girl says to you, you need to exercise self control and think about the situation. I came across many situations where girls were baiting boys, and the boys would get in trouble when they really didn't think they were doing anything wrong, because girls were sending all the "green light" signals. When the boys got in trouble, they were dumbfounded, and a lot of that could have been avoided if they had exercised self control. My parents' favorite phrase to tell us was "There are choices and there are consequences. Every single choice has a consequence. Consider your options." After a few years, it was shortened to, "Remember: choices and consequences," as we were leaving the house to head out to wherever we were going. It makes you stop and think about what the reaction to your action will be.
Teach them that feelings are okay.
One of the most damaging things we can tell our boys is to "man up." They need to learn that a healthy expression of emotion is normal. Crying is normal, anger is normal. Punching or hitting someone isn't (unless they deck you first, in which case, have at it... and that's something I would tell my daughter, too, if I had one.). So many guys grow up thinking that they can't act a certain way or feel a certain way because it isn't manly. That just isn't true. Feelings are a normal reaction to events in our lives and should be felt, not squashed. And if our boys don't learn to deal with their feelings, then they hold them inside until they blow, resulting in rage, violence, depression, you name it. So go ahead baby boy, cry it out. I'll comfort you and tell you it's okay.
Teach them kindness.
Kids can be cruel. Teach your kids to stand up for those who are picked on, to sit at lunch with the kid who sits alone, to offer a helping hand. And don't just tell them to do it. Model the behavior! Don't talk badly about people or make fun of others. Be kind to everyone you meet, and your kids will emulate that behavior. Help those you come across who are in need, and teach them that being a silent spectator is just as bad as committing an act yourself. If our kids learn from a young age to be kind, then they will continue to practice that kindness throughout their lives. And really, that's what the world needs right now - a whole lot of kindness.
Don't make excuses for them.
My mom always tells this story about me. When I was in high school, I was in an Honors math class. I had a bunch of friends in the class, but since Math wasn't my strength, I always sat in the front of class and was ready for when the teacher walked in (go ahead, call me a nerd). One day, he walked into class and the rest of the class didn't settle down, so he said that since we didn't need him, he was just going to give us a test on the material we were supposed to have learned that class. Two of my bookish friends and I, all of whom were ready for class to begin, got up and walked out of the room, something that was totally out of character for us. My mom was the Assistant Principal at the time, and we marched straight to her office, indignant that we were being treated so unfairly by the teacher. She looked at us and said, "I don't care whether you think it was fair or not, he actually has the right to report you, and you could be suspended for your actions. I suggest you march right back to his classroom and apologize." We burst into tears and walked back to class, heads down, so embarrassed. We were lucky we didn't get into more trouble, but it's a perfect example of not bailing your kids out. My mom and that teacher still work together and laugh about this story every time we are all together, but it taught me a really important lesson, and that was that regardless of what my mom's position was within that institution, she wasn't going to let me off easy.
This is probably, by far, the most important thing. My mom could have made up an excuse for me and said it wasn't fair, the teacher was wrong, any number of things. But she didn't. Kids have to learn to deal with the consequences of their actions. All of these stories in the news where boys sexually assaulted a girl, what do they have in common? Mommies and daddies who swoop in and save them. As a parent, it's natural to not want to see your child suffer. But sometimes, a little suffering goes a long way. If they see that their parents are going to hold them to the same standards that everyone else is held to, they won't think they'll get off easy.
Will these things make a difference? Will these things help me make my boy into a man? I don't know. And the answer is that truthfully, nobody knows. And we can teach our boys everything we know, and they are still going to make mistakes. And at that point it will be up to us to reconsider our use of the phrase "boys will be boys." Because really, boys are human, and like every human, should be held accountable for their choices.
Stay hopeful friends, there are some good men coming your way.
And go check out Justine's latest post on raising boys, too! I promise you'll love it!
About this Mom
A Miami wife and mom documenting her days with her toddler and all that comes along with it.